Though these bands are an integral part of marriage processions in north, the patronage is on the wane in the State

They are the centre of attraction at every marriage procession. Attired in eye-catching uniforms and sporting colourful turbans, they march briskly to the beat of drums, the sound of trumpets, and the blow of clarinets, and in the process, create intense spectators out of an amorphous crowd that flocks the procession. Though the bands spread joy and provide added attraction, in reality, the troupes suffer in silence due to waning patronage. Till a few years ago, the marriage processions formed an essential component of the celebrations, in both urban and rural areas.

Due to several factors, including economic measures and curtailment of ceremonies, the baraat processions, which signifies the arrival of groom’s family members and relatives to the wedding venue, are slowly become a thing of the past. Many grooms themselves shy away from such pageants, one of the prime factors for the poor patronage.

But the waning trend is witnessed only in Tamil Nadu, observes a cross section of senior citizens. The baraat processions are still an integral part of marriage ceremonies in north India, says R.Viswanathan of Pune. Despite all these odds, the city accounts for a number of such troupes.

Every member of the troupe is skilled in playing a specific musical instrument and the performance lasts for about two to three hours.

Though the troupe comprises about 20 members, the strength varies from one marriage to another, depending upon the economic affordability of the organisers. “We charge Rs.6,000 for a 15-member team, and Rs.10,000 for a larger troupe with 22 members,” says 47-year-old B.Martin, team leader, ‘Crown Band’, Beema Nagar.

“A few months in the Tamil almanac are considered inauspicious for solemnising marriage, when we do not have any revenue at all,” he says. They ensure quality which forms the capital of their trade. “More than attracting onlookers, we have an eye on strengthening our customer base through our performance,” says Mr. Martin.

“After witnessing our performance for the first time, most customers make it a point to include our programme in their domestic ceremonies.”

Although the members of the party look like professional musicians, in reality, many of them are unorganised labourers such as painters, and carpenters.

“Most of us rely on some other trade for our livelihood but periodically undergo rehearsal for improving upon our performance,” says R.Amalraj from ‘Glamour Band’, who is a carpenter. He says that on an average he gets five programmes every auspicious month in Tamil almanac.

“We have been submitting petitions to the state government to extend certain benefits to us, but in vain,” says Mr.Amalraj, who is the district deputy secretary of the Tiruchi District Rural Band Artistes Association.

“Many senior artistes find it difficult to eke out a living . A pension scheme will bring great relief ,” says Mr. Amalraj.

The association has been demanding marriage assistance for daughters of artistes.